Anita Silvey’s Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac is an ideal companion for anyone who loves the world of children’s books. Each day of the year includes a short essay on the book of the day plus informative sidebars with author birthdays, books tied to the date in history, and, of course, further suggested reading. Silvey reads broadly, reveling in the classics but also waxing poetic about newer works. Additionally, she is careful to include something for every age in each day’s page whether in the main essay or in the sidebar.
While she often tips her celebrated hat to the established literary months such as Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Poetry Month, Latino Book Month and so forth, she also explores less renowned days and birthdays.
The book begins with Esther Forbes and Johnny Tremain in honor of the baptismal anniversary of Paul Revere on January 1 in 1735. Esther Forbes suffered from a form of dyslexia which manifested itself by a lack of consistency in spelling and an inability to use established punctuation. She was already a Pulitzer-Prize winner for a biography on Revere when she turned in her manuscript for her first juvenile book, Johnny Tremain, full of misspellings and dashes in lieu of periods and commas. Revered editor Grace Hogarth intimated to the author that while she loved the book, she would have to standardize the spelling and punctuation. “Oh, my editors always do that!” remarked the author. Thus, from the first page of the Almanac, the reader is assured of being served delicious tidbits while digesting important insights into the creative process.
February 4 is Thank a Mailman Day and Silvey uses the occasion to celebrate the phenomenon of Flat Stanley and give the origin story of the character and his name. April 14 is marked as the date of Charlie Parker’s first recording for Decca so the Book of the Day just has to be Charlie Parker Played Be Bop. On February 16, she tells us of Raina Telgemeier that “Few writers have given better advice to young readers” than the Smile protagonist, “The more I focused on my interests the more I brought out the things I liked about myself.” The connection to the date is National Children’s Dental Health Month.
We also learn about Anita Silvey’s life in books. On February 6, an appreciation of Scott O’Dell reveals that Anita considers him to be the most impressive author she has ever worked with. On June 22, Anita pays homage to the sesquicentennial of the Civil War through Patricia Polacco’s Pink and Say. She notes that there should be a statute of limitations on how many times you cry while reading a book. On May 3, during Children’s Book Week, you know that she should highlight something spectacular so she shares that when she asks what book of the last 15 years seems poised for classic status the overwhelming response is Holes by Louis Sachar. And what is the book Anita gave as a gift to visitors between the ages of 10 and 14 for many years? Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase as revealed on September 14.
Perhaps my favorite is November 21 and The Witch of Blackbird Pond in honor of Elizabeth George Speare’s birthday. She only wrote five books yet Speare won two Newbery Medals and one Honor. My favorite fun fact? The Witch of Blackbird Pond received a rare unanimous vote on the first ballot for the Newbery that year.
The well-organized appendices detail the primary children’s book awards both nationally and internationally as well as lists by titles, authors, books by type, and books by age. The Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac is truly an indispensable resource for anyone who has ever asked–or been asked–what to read next.
– Reviewed by Ellen Myrick